Partner and I attended an event the other night at which a very nice (and rather attractive) young psychiatrist did a presentation on Alzheimer’s disease: diagnosis, treatment, medications.   He then invited questions. 



There was a noisy giggly group of older women there, who’d been cackling through most of his presentation.  One of them raised her hand.  “I got the fear of the elevator,” she said in Italian-accented English.  “Other people get on, I get on too, sometimes.  But alone – no!”



This quite evidently had nothing to do with Alzheimer’s disease, but there are always people who solicit free medical advice from doctors, and Doctor Cutiepie was obviously used to this.  He nodded sympathetically.  “It’s a phobia,” he said.  “Anxiety is the number-one psychiatric disorder in the United States, and phobias are one of the commonest forms of anxiety.  I had a patient who didn’t leave her house for seventeen years: agoraphobia, very common.  And I prescribed Prozac, and –“



That was enough for Elevator Lady.  “A drug!” she spat.



Doctor C. nodded.  “A drug.  But effective, in this case.”



Much muttering from Elevator Lady’s table.  You could tell that Doctor Cutiepie had gone down a few pegs in their book.  He was advocating drugs!



Later that same evening, Partner and I had a conversation with a nice couple across the table from us.  The husband suffered from sleeplessness.  “But!” he said triumphantly.  “My doctor said: Do you take anything for it?  And I said: No.  And he said: Good for you!”



He and his wife grinned across at us.  “Well,” I said, “we both have insomnia issues, and we both take Ambien.  It does the trick for both of us.”



“Really?” the husband said, a little tremulously.  “What’s that called again?”



(I ask you, kids: has anyone really never heard of Ambien?)  “Ambien,” I repeated.



“It’s pretty safe,” Partner added.  “They usually give you a prescription for twenty pills once a month, so that you can’t take one every night.”



“Oh!” the wife said.  “You need a prescription for it.”  She looked at us both sympathetically.  “Haven’t you tried something like Tylenol PM?”



I am not known for my tact.  “Feh!” I said.  (Literally, I said “Feh.”  I surprised myself a little bit.)  “Tylenol PM is kid stuff.  Why bother with that, when you know there’s something that can really help you?”



You have to wonder what people have in their heads these days.  I have heard otherwise intelligent people say things like: “Well, I get the flu shot every year.  But sometimes it gives me the flu.”  No, honey, it doesn’t.  Or: “I hear a lot of stuff on TV about how the flu shot’s not really good for you.”  Would you please tell me on what Satanic TV channel you hear such nonsense?



I know lots of people who believe it is a sign of weakness to take medication.  Aspirin (or, in life-threatening situations, Tylenol or Advil) is permissible once in a while.  But nothing more



I carry a few Claritin in my briefcase for emergencies.  I don’t find it very useful, frankly, but on a bad allergy day it can be a life-saver.  I proffer it to people sometimes when they’re coughing and wheezing, and they react as if I’m giving them heroin. 



Seriously, kids: human beings are highly irrational.



I really should have asked Doctor Cutiepie about this while I had the chance.



Sleep medication


Apollonia was all haggard and red-eyed the other day. “Up late casting evil spells?” I said.



She swatted at me, then slumped into herself and sighed. “I was reading in bed,” she said. “I finished one book. Then I couldn’t sleep.”



“You overexcited yourself,” I said. “Last night I was reading ‘A History of the Monks of Syria.’ I conked out almost immediately. Did you know Saint Euphronius lived in a treetrunk?”



“Anyway,” Apollonia said, disregarding me, “I had another – um – story I wanted to read on my iPad, so I read that. [Editor’s note: no doubt some piece of trashy “Twilight” fan fiction. And, by “read,” she probably meant “write.”] Then I was really awake. Then I started thinking about work. Then I looked at the clock, and it was 2:00 am. So -”



“Three words, babe,” I said. “Am. Bi. En. I take it. Everyone takes it. Take a ride on the big green butterfly, babe.”



Pills,” she said with alarm.



Pills,” I said mockingly. “Better living through chemistry. Enter the new millennium, grandma.”



For decades, like poor Apollonia, I used to lie awake and stare at the ceiling. Every noise kept me awake. Reading in bed helped a little, but not much. If the room was too warm, or too cold, or too stuffy, or too drafty, I couldn’t sleep. For a while in the 1990s I had an apartment with old-fashioned steam radiators that went KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK all night, and believe me, that will keep you awake.



Then I discovered the Big Green Butterfly. (Oh, wait, I just remembered.  That’s Lunesta, not Ambien. But let’s go with the image anyway. It’s so pretty.)



God bless my general practitioner, skinny little Doctor M., who first prescribed Ambien for me.



Some people report “sleep-eating” when they take Ambien: they go into a somnambulistic trance, go to the kitchen, eat everything in sight, go back to bed, and wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes. I have never had this happen. (So far as I know.)



It does blank out your memory, though. Partner tells me that, when I take it, I have entire conversations with him which I forget by morning. (Partner also takes rides on the Green Butterfly, however, so he has been known to say odd things before bedtime himself.)



Bedtime’s drawing near as I write this.



Hear that fluttering? The pretty butterfly is entering our airspace.







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